Burundi reporter sentenced to life imprisonment

Hassan Ruvakuki was sentenced today to life in prison. (Iwacu-burundi)

Nairobi, June 20, 2012--A Burundian appeals court must reverse the ruling against a journalist sentenced to life in prison on vague terrorism charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

A High Court in the eastern town of Cankuzo today found Hassan Ruvakuki, a reporter for local radio station Bonesha FM and French government-funded broadcaster Radio France Internationale, and 13 other defendants guilty of "participating in terrorist attacks" under the country's penal code, Patrick Nduwimana, the interim director at Bonesha FM, told CPJ.

The verdict was based on Ruvakuki's November 2011 trip to a rebel-held area along Burundi's border with Tanzania, during which he recorded an audio statement from Pierre Claver Kabirigi, a former police officer who claimed to be the leader of a new rebel group, the Front for the Restoration of Democracy-Abanyagihugu. When Ruvakuki returned to the capital, Bujumbura, security agents arrested him, searched his home, and questioned him over his alleged links to the rebel group, according to news reports.

Ruvakuki's defense counsel said the judges had not been impartial during the trial and that the government was pressuring the court to find a conviction, according to local journalists. Defense lawyer Onesimus Kabayabaya plans to file an appeal once he receives the court ruling, Nduwimana told CPJ.

"It's the duty of any reporter to interview both sides in a conflict," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "That is what Hassan Ruvakuki tried to do. We call on the court of appeals to overturn the conviction."

June 20, 2012 6:18 PM ET |

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